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Doctor Who XXXII.4: The Doctor's Wife - Happy Families

May 16th, 2011 (12:17 pm)

More of my own thoughts on The Doctor's Wife under the cut; but first a link to Matt Hills's latest Doctor Who post on the Antenna blog, concentrating on how Gaiman's authorial signature is accommodated within a television series which already has an anointed auteur:

Neil Gaiman's Doctor Who: Fan Service Meets the Junkyard Look

The Doctor's Wife offers two contrasting presentations of the family unit. One is Auntie, Uncle and Nephew. The third-person manner in which they talk of themselves and the infantilizing tone of their conversation suggests a dysfunctional attempt at a foster-family, dimly recalling the gentile couple who took in Maureen Lipman's character's sons in Jack Rosenthal's The Evacuees. (More evidence that Time Lords are Jewish, daniel_saunders?) Given that Idris doesn't have a family label, she must be one of many 'strays' whom House has captured, subjected, and kept in a tranquil state until needed, whether as a receptacle for a TARDIS matrix or for spare parts for House's principal toys. There is an echo of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse here, as well as of Gerry Anderson's UFO and the Hitecs of Blake's 7's Powerplay. Yet when the Doctor told Auntie and Uncle that he doubted that there was anything left of the people they used to be, did anyone else think of the Doctor's many physical transformations? House's 'repairs' are parodies of Time Lord regeneration, just as House has preyed on Time Lords and TARDISes but has only attempted to travel through time and space in extremis. House has been comfortable with enslavement in a bubble universe rather than with discovery, and it is the slave houses of the American South which he evokes. Uncle might praise House's benevolence but his hobbling two left feet recall the punishment doled out to slaves who tried to escape plantations, as seen on 1970s television in Roots when half of Kunta Kinte's foot was chopped off.

The other family unit is brought to the viewers' attention towards the close of the episode, though it has been with them for much longer. The Doctor, addressing the spiritually restored TARDIS, asks where they should take 'the kids' next. This move clears away the rubble remaining from the fourth wall, as the kids are not only Amy and Rory but the watching viewers. Back in 1984, in an article for the international edition of Time magazine slightly belatedly marking Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary, Sydney Newman recalled that Doctor Who "was never intended to be simply a children's program, but something that would appeal to people who were in a childlike frame of mind." Doctor Who's mythic 'Saturdayness', to which the current series has invoked, involves an appeal to home and hearth but then challenges those perimeters, extending them vertically (the Doctor's beloved ladders on bunk beds), horizontally (the double bed presumably sought by Mr and Mrs Pond) and across all other dimensions (the Doctor and his wife, in their room, at the end of the episode). Childlikeness is not the baby-talk of Auntie and Uncle, but inquisitiveness and playfulness. House likes to play but it is not greatly inquisitive and it denies that capacity to others.

The Doctor and the TARDIS refute Auntie and Uncle's confining surrogate parenthood by being teachers, playmates, friends, people with more experience of dealing with big questions and who have a reasonable apprehension of how big they might be on the inside, beyond the imagination of House. House can't discover the hidden rooms of the TARDIS, and (presuming that Idris-TARDIS was introduced to the Doctor in the belief that this would cause the TARDIS Matrix to 'break the casing' and so die immediately) underestimated the resilience of the TARDIS herself. Ultimately House lacks imagination and denies the creative impulse to others; the security it offers is that of death. The TARDIS and the Doctor imagine, and offer us the chance to live beyond the physical plane while learning to appreciate this moment of embodiment.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Me

I didn't think of the repair of Uncle and Auntie as paralleling regeneration - interesting idea. And I haven't seen The Evacuees, so I can't comment on that parallel.

House likes to play but it is not greatly inquisitive and it denies that capacity to others.

House is also a malicious, bullying child, playing on Amy and Rory's fears and involving them in games they don't want to play for its own amusement.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
Me

Oh, and the Matt Hills post is interesting (once I worked out what 'hyperdiegetic' means - cultural studies people do love their jargon, don't they?), but he misses that Moffat has apparently unhappened a hefty chunk of the Davies era, but we don't know for sure how much yet or exactly how it happened. This was in many ways a more important unhappening than rebooting the universe in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
Horace Walpole

Matt Hills's Triumph of a Time Lord is an essential guide to how Russell T Davies's Doctor Who worked in the context of television in the first decade of this century. I like what he's doing on Antenna, hyperdiegetics included (though I've long and unrealistically thought it a pity that different branches of learning have their own vocabularies - I am perhaps an eighteenth-century dilettante at heart).

I wonder, given the way the Silence work and how far they seem to have controlled human history (in a way which causes potential problems for past and future Doctor Who) whether there is another unhappening to come.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
Me

though I've long and unrealistically thought it a pity that different branches of learning have their own vocabularies

Going back to our discussion of Orwell on Friday, he was very anti-jargon and regarded it as a way of deliberately stopping people understanding what you were actually saying. That said, it is often necessary, particularly in learned discourse. But I confess I am suspicious of the political ideas that underpin some of the cultural studies stuff I've come across, which perhaps makes me less receptive to their jargon.

Back to Doctor Who...

I wonder, given the way the Silence work and how far they seem to have controlled human history (in a way which causes potential problems for past and future Doctor Who) whether there is another unhappening to come

I wouldn't be surprised if that happens (we already know that they are somehow tied up with time travel, which could be laying the groundwork for that) and of course there is the Doctor's death which is likely to unhappen around episode thirteen.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
JamieZoe

Cultural studies has (I gather) been substantially shaped by Marxist and Marxist-influenced ideologies, so there can be a lot of assumptions about historical narratives and social structures embedded in some approaches with which one might not necessarily agree.

As for the Silence, my thoughts turn to the lone Silent seen by Amy in Utah in 2011; what was it doing there? I wonder what relevance events in the next two-parter will have for the arc plot?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
JamieZoe

Excellent point about House being a bullying child - the same could be said of the Toymaker.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
Eternal Champion

I really liked this episode. It felt very Gaimanesque and stretched Who in a slightly different direction than it has been of late, but in a good way. Maybe it takes a big name writer to do this - lesser lights and people who are uniquely TV scriptwriters are perhaps happier to conform to what they see as Mr Moffat's templates.

What I would absolutely love is for more big name SF and fantasy authors to come in and write a Who story. We had Michael Moorcock's novel last year and now this. Let's have some more.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
Hartnell words

I've not read much Gaiman - Stardust and Neverwhere being the books concerned - but can see the Gaimanesque in the idea of the bubble universe, beyond the Wall or Down Below the cosmos we know.

Neil Gaiman was very much brought in to be Neil Gaiman, though his limits were defined still by Steven Moffat and what has gone before. As for other writers this year: someone of the status of Mark Gatiss will do their own thing to a larger extent than, say, Steve Thompson or Tom MacRae; and the same will undoubtedly go for Matthew Graham. Gareth Roberts probably occupies an in-between state.

Stephen Baxter has said that he is writing a BBC Books Doctor Who novel, presumably to be produced and marketed in the way Michael Moorcock's was.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
cyberleader

Ooh, that's interesting. I've never read any Baxter, but one of the genres that is now perhaps somewhat under-represented in Who is hard SF - and Baxter could perhaps do that.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC)
Troughton

Yes, he could; one of his earlier non-Who books allegedly began as a Virgin New or Missing Adventures novel, before it became clear the Doctor and co were encumbrances. His new novel is apparently a second Doctor story; given that Baxter has written the introduction to the new edition of Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, due out in July, we might perhaps see a formal announcement around then.

Edited at 2011-05-16 04:10 pm (UTC)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
Me

His new novel is apparently a second Doctor story

Am I right in thinking that this would be the first past Doctor novel since around 2005? Although I have to confess that I haven't bought a Doctor Who novel since about 2003.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
Hartnell words

Yes - I think that it would be.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 17th, 2011 11:20 am (UTC)

I don't think there has been a diktat against Rob - I'm sure he's been involved in discussions about more television Doctor Who, but there have been lots of acclaimed writers who haven't been able to gain a slot in the series.

I was recommended the Sandman sequence a very long time ago, and still haven't got round to it!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)

The Auntie, Uncle bit reminded me of the Family of Blood, very similar way of talking about themselves, and equally disfunctional.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)

The green glow and the smoke were also reminiscent of that story...

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)

Yes, though maybe it's just that Gaiman could quite happily have written the family of blood story - both are quirky, dark, psychologically screwy.

I did utterly love Idris though. I think very few writers could have pulled that personalisation off. Gaiman and Doug Adams maybe. Id like to write more about this episode tomorrow when I'm more awake. These are just quick pokes at it after a very long day.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)

I look forward to seeing what you write - let me know as you are currently anonymous.

Posted by: thanatos_kalos (thanatos_kalos)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)

To be honest, when I heard 'Auntie' my first thought was that it was a ref to 'Auntie Beeb' in some respect. I should think more on that, once I've got this draft done...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 16th, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)

That's an idea which is worth running with. Auntie Beeb can't always be trusted as the TARDIS's guardian, can she?

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 17th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Me

Auntie Beeb would like to present herself as a trusted guardian of the cultural life of the nation as a whole, but that's another question entirely...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 18th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
MattKarenArthur

Part of the problem is that there are lots of aunts, and we tend to treat them as if there were just one. Then again (to bring the allusion full circle) perhaps there is one aunt, made up of lots of spare parts.

Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: May 18th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
family units

To add my belated comment to this long list of responses, it is also very Gaiman to turn the crew of the TARDIS into a family unit with its own weird politics, ala Sandman's The Endless. It's a way of rendering the paradigm between the Doctor, Rory, and Amy (and perhaps River Song too in other episodes) mythic. Whatever else happens they were/are a family for that time (whatever time they acknowledge) and that becomes a fixed relationship to enter into Dr. Who history. It also draws in Amy's pregnancy. She needs a family unit as a safe place to have a child (however ironic safe may be) and perhaps it reflects ironically on Rory that she needs more than just him and the child. She needs a protector figure to enable her adventures. Since Amy and Rory help save the TARDIS they get a mother figure, too. As above, so below. If the Doctor and the TARDIS can stabilize their relationship maybe that makes Amy and Rory's relationship more safe and balanced without the ambiguity of the Doctor's affections for Amy.Either way it's feel good and clarifying. People always feel better when there's a paradigm they can recognize and classify.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 18th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: family units

One day I will catch up on the Sandman saga. I like the way you emphasise how this family unit paradigm is mythic, though we don't know the details of the child yet; and as you say it restores the paternal interpretation of the Doctor's feelings for his young female companion.